I love the pre-Christmas season in London! There is then a very special atmosphere over the city, lights and elaborate street lights, Christmas markets with mulled wine and roasted chestnuts, children meeting Santa Claus and adults who can finally wear their crazy Christmas clothes.
As for the actual Christmas holidays, they belong classically to the family. Since mine is from Germany, we celebrate here too. I haven’t spent a Christmas in the UK yet, but my friends Kirsty, Ian and Andy have helped me to collect the most important Christmas traditions from the UK for you. And here they are now: the five differences to Christmas in the UK.
Table of Contents
Christmas trees and decorations
Whereas in Germany we don’t put up the Christmas tree until the 24th. If you decorate the tree for December, many English people put it up already at the beginning of December. Some decorate the rest of the house at the same time. There are even families who have several fir trees and distribute them in the living room and dining room. The tree is decorated with lights, baubles and a big star as a finale. There are no fixed rules how or in which colors the tree has to be decorated. Each family decides for itself and develops family traditions in the process.
Prince Albert brought the decorated fir tree to the UK
By the way, did you know that the decorated Christmas tree was introduced by Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria? He wanted to share this cherished tradition with his English compatriots.
Holly and ivy are popularly used to decorate the house. Standing under mistletoe might get you a kiss, and colorful and opulent door wreaths (they’re called Christmas wreath in English) can be found everywhere.
One of the many Christmas wreaths in London
The Christmas holidays in the United Kingdom
Christmas is celebrated in the UK on 25. December is celebrated the 26. December – "Boxing Day" is a holiday on which the stores are already open again.
The 24. December – final spurt
Differently than with us in Germany becomes on 24. Christmas is not celebrated yet. Rather this day is used for the last preparations. Gifts are wrapped and the big Christmas stockings, the "Christmas Stockings" are hung by the fireplace, at the end of the bed or some other place (where Santa Claus can find them and put presents in them).
Families with young children (and real fireplace) burn the children’s wish lists, because Santa Claus can read the smoke and then brings the right gifts.
If you still need cookies, today is a good day for baking.
When all preparations are complete, the family sits by the decorated Christmas tree, reading Christmas stories or watching TV.
The direct line to Santa Claus – mailbox for the Santa Claus Express
The 25. December – Christmas Day
Children (and some adults too) wake up to find their stockings filled with little presents. These are usually an apple or an orange, chocolate talents and small things like socks, toy cars, nail polish or a lip gloss.
After examining the contents of the stockings, the big presents are opened.
Christmas Dinner is the holiday meal for the whole family (although family can also include friends and/or neighbors). It starts around noon. Probably you will find a "Christmas Cracker" in your place. I’ll explain exactly what they are below.
The 26. December – Boxing Day
Boxing Day on 26. December is a holiday. Originally, it was the day when servants received gifts from their employers.
The origin of the term Boxing Day
About the origin of the name "Boxing Day" I know two approaches. And none of them has anything to do with sports.
- The first theory is that the servants who took their dominions on 25.12. had served, spent the second day with their family, and in return received boxes of candy from the service.
- According to the second theory, the name comes from the fact that donations for the needy had been collected in boxes throughout the year, and on 26. December distributed.
It is the day to think of all those who have helped you throughout the year. This can be the letter carrier, the shopkeeper around the corner or neighbors. They get small gifts as a thank you.
Leftovers from yesterday’s feast are eaten, children play with their new toys and many use the day to redeem their new Christmas vouchers. On Boxing Day the stores are open.
If you’re in London over the holidays, please note that many museums are closed from 24. to 26. December have closed!
The Queen’s Christmas speech
The 25. December the "Queen’s Christmas Speech" is for many a highlight. These Christmas speeches have a long tradition. In 1932 the first speech by George V was broadcast on radio. The present Queen has been reading her speeches since 1952, and since 1957 they have even been broadcast on television. The broadcast takes place in the afternoon on BBC1 and if necessary. still other TV channels take place. The speech usually lasts only 10 minutes.
Reactions to the Queen’s Christmas address are mixed. The younger generations in particular don’t even look at them anymore, as they are generally skeptical of the monarchy. Many fans of the Queen around the world, however, follow the speech via Youtube.
Food and drink at Christmas
The big family feast takes place in UK on 25. December takes place, on Christmas Day. A traditional meal consists of a turkey, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and carrots. In addition there is a sauce. Christmas Puddings or Fruit Trifle (a layered dessert with alcohol-soaked sponge cake base, fruit, custard and cream) are popular desserts. You can also make mince pies (a tartlet filled with dried raisins, candied fruit, nuts and alcohol) or plain chocolates. You can find a selection of classic recipes for the feast at the BBC.
In the afternoon of Boxing Day there is often a Christmas Cake. You can find more info about this delicacy at Simone from Tea and Scones.
Since many people are now vegetarian or vegan, you will find many alternative foods without meat and dairy products in England.
As in Germany, each family has its own traditions when it comes to food. What sauce to put on the table? Which dessert goes down well? Everybody does it the way he likes.
Christmas Crackers – Crackers for Christmas
Christmas Crackers are part of the Christmas meal in England. In the paper candies, which pop when you pull both ends apart, there are usually little hats, funny toys, sayings or riddles. Invented in the 1840s by Tom Smith, a candy maker from London.
Finally, some interesting information:
- I was told that the Christmas season is only really open when the Coca-Cola commercials with the Christmas trucks are on TV
- The British fear bad luck in the new year if the Christmas tree including decorations is not taken down within 12 days after Christmas. I don’t know this tradition from Germany. But both countries say goodbye to the fir tree for the 6. January (Epiphany), so there might be something to this approach as well…
As you have seen, there are differences between a Christmas in the UK and one in Germany. However, these are not really huge. Because for most of us Christmas is the celebration of love and family, where we relax, enjoy good food and exchange gifts.
With this post I wish you a wonderful and peaceful Christmas! I hope you are surrounded by people close to you and get gifts you wanted (and not ones you need…)
Ps: If you’re looking for some music for the holidays, check out the post "Exceptional British Christmas Songs". I have put together a few songs for you, if you can’t listen to the classics anymore.
You might also be interested in the following posts: the most important ones Events in London in the run up to Christmas and everything around the tradition of Elf on the Shelf.
This post is also available in: English
Sign up here for the Totally London newsletter!
The newsletter brings you the latest events, insider tips and suggestions directly to your inbox! To make your time there extra special!
Almost there, just need to confirm the link in the email you just received.
on 21. December 2017 at 11:37
Great and informative post!
I love to read about customs in other countries. I live in the Netherlands. Here, too, people have their own peculiarities and celebrate Christmas differently than in Germany. The trees are put up like in England already at the beginning of December. This year we are adapting. I have already bought the tree.
I always find customs from other countries totally exciting. That gives also cause times over the own customs to think. In times of globalization the borders blur and own things are lost and new things are adapted (Halloween).
Hach, these Christmas Crackers would be what for my son! And that on 26. the stores are open again, the whole matter will certainly relax noticeably.
I always love to see how Christmas is celebrated in different countries. The filled socks I also still find cute, you know them from different Christmas movies&
Wish you reflective holidays and a wonderful Christmas time&